To my second baby: The mama you get

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Sometimes I feel guilty that Juliette will never know the mama Vivian had.

She’ll never know a world that, essentially, revolves entirely around her. She’ll never know what it’s like to be my only concern, my only focus from morning to night. She’ll never know a world where people won’t be comparing her to someone else.

She’ll never know what it’s like to not have to wait for me to help her sister with something first. She won’t get as much of my time, as much of my attention, as much of my focus. She’ll never know a world where my hands are always available to hold her.

She’ll forever be wearing hand-me-downs and waiting her turn. One of her first words will be “share” and few things in life will ever be just Juliette’s.

And sometimes I feel sad she won’t know a world like that. But then I also remember…

She’ll never know a world without a best friend. She’ll never search for a playmate because she was born into a world with the best one ever.

She’ll never have to adjust from a self-centered mindset. Vivian has made the switch like a champ, but there were definitely some growing pains as she got used to a world where the sun and moon did not set with her.

She’ll reap the benefits of a more seasoned mama. Last night, I made an off-hand comment about Juliette that she’ll never get as much of my time, but she’ll get a much smarter mom. I’ve learned so many lessons being Vivian’s mom, and Juliette won’t have to live through the same mistakes.

She’ll get a more relaxed mama, too. With Vivian, everything was so foreign and unknown and I know I stressed a lot more than I needed to. Juliette’s mama has been much chiller from the start, and she doesn’t sweat nearly as much small stuff.

So yes, being second-born means giving some things up. But I think the things gained more than make up for any sacrifices.

 

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Second-time motherhood and saying yes to the village

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I’m treating myself different this time around. With my first baby, I was trying to retain so much of my pre-baby self. The girl who could do everything—by herself, thank you very much. The girl who appreciated the offers of help but would chirp back cheerily that she was “Fine!” without it.

And, I’m so many ways, I could. I could push myself and carry on and get through it. For weeks, maybe months, I could ignore the tiny cracks forming in my own sanity, my own confidence, my own sense of self. I could barrel forward because I did have support—even if I didn’t always accept the help regularly proffered.

And I did fine. We did fine. I even felt truly happy most of the time.

But when I look back on it, I also remember feeling lonely. Feeling bored. Feeling disconnected and not fully myself. FaceTiming my mom every morning the SECOND I knew she was awake. Texting friends about random things and living for responses to posts I made online because it meant I was kind of, sort of talking to someone for a while.

Because I was craving something without even realizing it. I was missing the village.

In my (albeit limited) experience as a mom and working for an incredible resource like Motherly, I spend a lot of time thinking about how our society views and treats and lives motherhood. And the more we progress in so many ways (and, truly, it’s a good time to be a mama), the more and more I realize that mama’s need the villages of old.

I firmly believe motherhood was intended to be a group activity. A shared load between a group of women (and, okay, we’ll let the occasional helpful man in too ), a perpetual support system of physical, emotional, and spiritual uplifting.

It’s something I feel in my bones when I look at the above photo from my labor, just minutes before I brought my second daughter into the world. I see how loved and supported I am, and every part of it rings powerful and right and exactly how it should be.

When I read essays and stories from women who struggled with new motherhood, the common denominator is that missing thread of community. Is that (often self-inflicted) pressure to do it all alone, to do it all perfectly. It’s just not how we were made to live and mother and thrive.

Other cultures get this. They impose “lying-ins” and incredible amounts of care for new mothers, requiring full months of rest where the mother’s only job is to recover and care for her newborn. The idea of “super mom” seems to be a distinctly American phenomenon, and I haven’t been immune to the pressure.

And the crazy thing is, I’m so incredibly fortunate that I have that village. I have incredibly helpful parents and in-laws who are practically begging to chip in. I have my two best friends living literal minutes from me, along with their family, all of whom regularly offer help from meals to massages to simply being there to listen and hold my baby and me whenever we need. I have a loving congregation who have looked forward to and prayed for my baby and me just as much as I have.

I had these things the first time I became a mother too. And it took me until now to fully appreciate what a gift that is.

So this time around, I made a rule for myself: I say yes.

I say yes to my own “lying in” — five days spent largely in bed, simply recovering and bonding with my baby while others care for me and my toddler. And not feeling any guilt about it.

I say yes to the offers to make food, whether it’s my mom making me eggs every morning so I don’t have to wait for everyone else to be ready for breakfast or my friends offering to bring me treats or meals I might be craving.

I say yes to offers to watch Vivi or hold the baby so I can sneak in a nap, without any guilt that I “should” be the one doing all the cuddling and caretaking—as if I’m helping my children by denying them another person’s equally unconditional love.

I say yes to the listening ears, to the offers to do grocery store runs, to the help with laundry and vacuuming and giving my toddler a bath so I can focus on resting, recovering, and bonding with this new tiny person who has changed my life so wholly (again).

I’m saying yes to offers to take both girls so I can just sit in bed with a hot cup of coffee and scroll through Instagram or Pinterest or—hey!—even tap out a blog post’s worth of feelings on my phone—completely and utterly guilt-free.

And while I may only be a few days in, I already feel a difference. I feel a lightening of the load, of the pressure. Because while I will always feel the most responsibility to make sure my children are well cared for and have more than they ever need, a tiny, primal part of me feels like it’s the whole village’s job to shoulder that Herculean task. That, on my own, I simply can’t do as good of a job as my whole crew can do together.

Because I feel that this is a time I should be thriving too, and I can only do that if I let all the love and help pour in without keeping any back. Because I truly believe with my whole heart that this love and support (for them AND me) is the greatest start I could give my children.

So, this time, I’m saying yes. I’m saying thank you. And we’re all better for it.

7 items to register for with baby #2

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One of the first questions my friends asked me when I announced I was pregnant with baby #2 was whether or not I wanted a baby shower. I’ll admit to feeling a little torn—after all, I had already had several amazing showers the first time around. But because we’re living in a new place and had a whole new group of friends who weren’t able to celebrate Vivi’s arrival with us (and because, let’s be real, I love any excuse for a pretty party), I ultimately decided it would be nice to have a smallish shower to celebrate the new little rabbit.

This also led to a follow-up question: Did I register for baby numero dos?

Ultimately, I decided to for several reasons:

  1. There were several things I actually did need that couldn’t be repurposed from Vivi.
  2. Because we didn’t know if we were having a boy or girl, guests who wanted to get gifts would have an even harder time coming up with options on their own.

In the end, I thought it would be simpler (and better for my wannabe minimalist lifestyle) to let everyone know what we actually needed.

Registering for a second baby was a lot more fun for me, actually, because a) I only needed a few things, so I could really edit the list to necessities and b) because I had been a mom for a few years, I knew what we actually used or wished we had gotten the first time around—all meaning we were a lot less likely to end up with toys and stuff that would just end up taking space. (You know how I feel about baby stuff.)

For today’s post, I’m not going to share my registry ad nauseam, but I did want to highlight a few things that I think all second-time moms should consider registering for or picking up before baby #2 arrives. Here are some of my favorites!

First things first, I changed the way I registered this time around and used Babylist. Babylist lets you compile desired items (or services) from around the web in one place, so you can get the diaper bag you want from that adorable Etsy shop and the blankets you want from Target. They also have custom options like “dinner” or “cleaning help” that you can request from friends if you truly don’t need any tangible items. I found it really easy to use their app to add things from my phone that I would discover throughout my day.

Now on to the good stuff.

1. The diaper bag I wish I had known about: Fawn Design Original

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Honestly, Fawn Design is a new-ish company, so I’m not even sure they existed when Vivi was born. But a year ago, I bought of her mini diaper bag backpacks for our Disney trip, and I’ve been totally in love with the look and quality of the brand ever since. I told myself that if/when we had another baby, I was ditching the traditional, clunky diaper bag I had gone with the first time around in favor of this sleeker backpack option.

2. A second baby monitor: Motorola Wireless Baby Monitor

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Vivi still uses her baby monitor, so I needed a second option for the little rabbit. There are so many options on the market right now, but what sold me on this one was how easily it can scan the entire room and the reasonable price point.

3. A second noise machine…with longevity: Hatch Baby Rest

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We haven’t had any issues with Vivi’s standard noise machine, but I wrote about this Hatch Baby Rest version for Motherly a couple years ago and have wanted it ever since. Not only is it a noise machine, it’s also a night light, an ok-to-wake clock, and it can be controlled by an app on my phone. Plus, I love how the design just blends into the nursery without calling any attention to itself.

4. Toys that fit my home’s aesthetic: Petit Collage Wooden Puzzle

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This is probably very millennial of me, but any of my friends can tell you that I’m very anti-plastic, anti-technicolor, and anti-gimmick when it comes to my kids’ toys. For baby #2, I requested almost exclusively toys that I felt it wouldn’t bother me to see strewn across the living room floor (because, let’s be real, that’s where they live most of the time), which meant a lot of neutrals, a lot of wood, and a lot more craftsmanship. One of my favorites? This wooden animal puzzle from Petit Collage, plus a few teethers and a play gym from Etsy.

5. Because you’re much more practical for round 2: Medela breast pump parts

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Oh, did you think you were going to get through an entire pregnancy post without hearing about breastfeeding? Sorry not sorry. While I didn’t need a new pump, I did want to update a lot of the parts from my original, especially the ones that came in contact with milk and were therefore probably not as sterile as they once were. A kind couple of friends stepped up to the practicality plate and bought me new parts (like breastshields and pump membranes) so now my pump looks like new.

6. The swaddle you actually want at 3 a.m.: Sleepea 5-Second Swaddle

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I had dozens of traditional swaddle blankets for Viv—and she wrestled her way out of them constantly. And while they were great for play blankets, stroller and nursing covers, and just general blanket use as she got older, I always felt like there had to be a simpler way to swaddle. Which is why I was psyched when these 5-second, zippable swaddles came out a few years ago. They’ve tested well for the Motherly editors, so I immediately added a couple to my registry for this new, equally wiggly baby.

7. Safer skincare for baby: Beautycounter Baby Oil and Diaper Rash Cream

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While I wasn’t a Beautycounter consultant when Vivi was born, I had started to use some of their safer, cleaner skincare products on myself. Since then, they’ve also released a baby and family line. And since Vivi has notoriously sensitive skin, especially as a newborn, I’ve incorporated more of their family products into my children’s skincare as well. I’m excited to use the baby oil on both my babies, and I’ve also stocked up on their Calming Diaper Rash Cream for the new tiny bum entering our lives.

So those are the basics! I also registered for a few decor items, a couple books, some feeding items, a new carrier (I never found a buckle version I loved as much as my Beluga Baby wrap until I tried this one from lilleBaby!), and a few clothing items. If you want to see the full registry, you can view it here.

For you other second- (or third- or fourth-!) time moms out there, did you register after the first one? What were your must-haves?

Tiny kicks and pinpricks of worry

My husband felt our second baby kick for the first time last night.
 
I’d be lying if I said I felt no trepidation about this second baby.
 
Sometimes it feels like our lives have JUST barely reached some sort of equilibrium—what if I’m throwing off that balance forever? Having a child changed everything. My career is different (albeit so much better). Our marriage was tested (though came out arguably stronger). My friendships were refined (and I was left with fewer but the most amazing connections).
 
Despite all those positive results, it was rough road getting here. It was months of depression and postpartum anger and stress and self-doubt.
 
Some days, Vivi still screams for 20 minutes about the dress she’s going to wear or a headband that I’m not putting on her “right.” Some days, I wonder if I’m going to survive year two…let alone if I can do it again in another couple years.
 
Some days I wonder if I’ve possibly made a big mistake.
 
Because…am I ready for another seismic shift in my life?
 
On a (somewhat? maybe?) smaller scale, I worry about my heart growing to love two babies equally.
 
This is a thing. I know it’s a thing. Every woman doubts her ability to love her next child as much as her first, and virtually everyone comments later that it was a silly, pointless worry. “You just do,” they reassure you with friendly smiles.
 
But like a young girl who asks what love feels like, the answers never seem to really satisfy the way experience ultimately will. But I believe in the THING. I know I will love this baby differently but the same, and I look forward to the moment when I just do.
 
Which isn’t to say this experience isn’t rife with its own opportunities for worry. I worry about my children getting along. I worry about upsetting Vivi’s life. I worry about a thousand unknown things that I hope one day I’ll laugh at myself for worrying about.
 
But then, last night on the couch, my husband’s hand pressed to the side of my belly as we both held our breath, his eyebrows jumped with each wiggle until finally, “Was THAT it?”
 
“Yes!”
 
And both our eyes filled with tears as we grinned at each other like idiots, a mirror image of ourselves three years ago on a different couch in a small apartment in Astoria.
 
“I love it already,” my husband whispered.
“Me too,” I answered softly.
 
Because despite the worry and the waiting shifts, it’s true. We just do.

19 tips for going to Disney with a toddler

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Our little family recently went on our first real vacation in…four years? More? Typically our trips are centered on spending time with out-of-state family, so we rarely get a chance to do anything that feels like a true getaway.

Until a few months back, when two friends decided to plan a trip to Disney World and asked if we wanted to go too.

Um, that would be an affirmative.

The last time I went to Disney, I was about 12, and I certainly didn’t have a toddler in tow.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but I immediately set out to gather tips and tricks from people who know a lot more about the parks than I do.

I’m thrilled to report that our trip went even better than planned–and we escaped without any real toddler meltdowns or disasters.

So while there are plenty of Disney blogs out there you can read (written by what I’m sure are people who know a lot more about Disney than I do), I thought it might be helpful to share my tips for making the trip go smoothly with a toddler.

Ready, set, DISNEY.

1. Go in January.
I’m not sure Disney really has an off-season anymore, but if it did, it would be January. The buzz of the holidays has died down, and there are no major events in this month the mouse deems worthy to celebrate. As a result, you are more likely to get some kind of discount, particularly if you book your hotel, park tickets, and meals together like we did.

Plus, think about it: It’s January in FLORIDA. While the weather was pretty chilly at night an in the early morning (pack legitimate jackets and sweatshirts, folks), the rest of the day was perfect. No one wants to be dripping sweat when they meet Ariel, you guys. Even better, the parks tend to be less crowded, which is great for people who hate crowds so much they actually moved states to avoid them.

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2. Stay on-site if possible.
Yes, I’m sure you can find a cheaper hotel in the Orlando area if you need to, but hear me out: Not only are the Disney hotels extremely accommodating, the convenience can’t be beaten.

Let me tell you a story. It’s called: Parents Always Have to Carry Too Much Crap. I may have given away the ending. The point is, as a parent, you are constantly carrying other people’s junk. Disney gets this. They feel you. Which is why, when you stay on-site, they offer this magical gift: They pick up your luggage from the airport. And deliver it to your room. And then, when you check out, they check it in at your hotel so you can go to the airport without your luggage and not need to carry it again until you land in your home airport.

Can I just tell you that these facts were three of the top five things I was most excited about experiencing on my trip to Disney? (The other two were meeting princesses and Tower of Terror.)

Even better, you don’t have to rent a car because the Disney Magical Express takes you to and from the airport, and the shuttle service takes you to and from the parks each day. No fighting traffic, no searching for parking. It’s like you’re way more important than you actually are.

If you factor in what transportation (and mental duress) would cost you to do all those things yourself, you might just find that this actually is the best deal out there.

3. But be sure to pack what you need immediately in your carry-on.
The only downside to having someone else pick up your luggage like you’re Beyonce? You’re not actually Beyonce, you so have to wait about three hours (or sometimes a little more) for your luggage to be delivered to your room.

To make sure you’re not left without anything essential (like a swimsuit if you want to hit up the pool or your Disney gift cards if you plan to go to Disney Springs), pack it all in your carry-on.

4. Do. The. Meal. Plan.
I really can’t emphasize this enough. Since I’m not a Disney fanatic (merely an enthusiast), it’s not terribly hard for me to imagine why there are people–and parents especially–who hate Disney. One reason? The food is expensive, yo. I mean, $9 for a basket of fries? I get it.

That’s why the meal plan is essential to enjoying your experience. If you follow my previous tip and go during the off-season, you’re more likely to get a packaged deal that includes meals. The plan is extremely generous (one quick service (or counter service) meal, one sit-down, and two snacks a day, plus your refillable mug for the resort), and some of us didn’t even have enough of an appetite to eat everything. PLUS, as of 2018, patrons over 21 can get an alcoholic beverage with their quick service an sit-down meals, which is basically an unheard of deal.

Trust me when I tell you that your enjoying every meal at Disney hinges on you doing this plan.

5. Use Instacart to get groceries delivered.
Whether you use the meal plan or not, there are undoubtedly a few grocery items you’ll want to buy outside of Disney. (Think: bottles of water, baby food, milk, etc.) Instacart lets you outsource your shopping. A real, live person will go to your desired store (even Whole Foods!), make your purchase, and deliver it to you at your hotel. They even text you if an item isn’t available anymore to have you okay a substitute.

It’s a genius way to avoid having to buy bottles of water or unnecessary breakfast items that you know you can get cheaper elsewhere.

6. Get a rolling bag or strap for your car seat.
Truth talk: You don’t need a car seat at Disney unless you plan on driving yourself (see tip #2), but I wanted to bring ours for the plane since Vivi needed her own seat for the first time and a) I knew this would be safer and b) I thought she might stay seated easier if it was a comfortable chair. (I was right on both counts, for the record.) Either way, anyone who has been a parent for more than five seconds knows that car seats are a pain in the rear to transport (remember that instant classic Parents Always Have to Carry Too Much Crap?).

The last thing you want to do is lug one around in your arms through the airport. Solution: a tether that straps it to your rolling carry-on. I’ve also heard this backpack version is good, but truthfully, I think that would be way more tiring than simply rolling it along.

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7. Invest (or rent) a lay-flat stroller.
I knew that our having a good time on this trip would completely hinge on whether or not I could get Vivi to nap every afternoon. I may have (ironically) lost sleep worrying about whether or not it would happen.

To parents who are also worried about this, I offer this reassurance and suggestion: For one, your kid is most likely going to be exhausted each day. The constant mental stimulation of Disney tires everyone out, not to mention the excitement and actual physical effort required to spend the day there. Make it work for you by ensuring your stroller is a stimulation-free environment. It is essential that it lays flat and has an oversized hood to shut off your child from anything visually exciting.

Our stroller is small and compact, which is perfect for the city, but didn’t provide the aforementioned necessities. So we rented a City Mini Baby Jogger from Rent Baby Gear of Orlando. Their service is great–they dropped the stroller off at our hotel and then picked it up on the last day. My friend also rented a crib for her baby. It was convenient, easy to steer, laid back totally flat, and had a spacious sun visor that cut Vivi off from the characters and sun so she napped a couple hours each day.

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8. Make sure those princess dresses are comfy.
Vivi is just now entering the world of loving all things Disney princess, but she’s also a toddler who hates if there’s an itchy tag in her shirt. That being said, I knew she wouldn’t be able to stand a full day in an official Disney princess dress dripping with tulle and rough edges.

So I was so excited when I discovered Little Adventures princess dresses and dress ups on Instagram. Their dresses are all machine washable and made from soft materials, and the quality is (I think) even more authentic looking than some Disney versions. Vivi loved her dresses, wore them the entire day at the park, and still wears them now for play time.

Tip: Before you buy, do a little digging online and on Instagram to make sure there’s not a coupon code available. She does a lot of blogger collabs, and I ended up getting two for the price of one.

9. And plan your outfits around the weather.
We were probably slightly unprepared for how cold it got at night, but in general, each park also tends to be hotter or colder depending on its makeup. For example, Animal Kingdom has a lot of open-air, cement areas, so it holds a lot of heat. Epcot has a giant lake in the center and generally feels cooler than whatever the temperature says. Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios can be crowded, but they have a good mix of indoor-outdoor rides and events to keep things balanced.

No matter the time of year you go, keep that in mind when planning Disney outfits. (Oh please, like you’re not planning Disney outfits.)

10. Buy souvenirs ahead of time.
Remember when I talked about the reasons people hate Disney? Souvenirs are one of those reasons. Because, truth talk? Those little plushies and pins are dang expensive. Get around it by buying yours before you go, and then presenting your child with a new toy each night.

We were actually extremely fortunate to have friends who love us and our daughter who bought her gifts before and during our trip. Vivi had the bubble wand, a light-up toy, and received three “buddies” throughout the vacation that she still loves on regularly. So get awesome friends, or bargain shop before you go.

11. Prepare for the fireworks.
Vivi actually LOVED the fireworks every night, but some little ones are overwhelmed by the noise. Pack a hat with earflaps or buy a pair of these noise canceling headphones to keep little eardrums protected during the booms.

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12. Simplify your bedtime routine.
Everyone will be exhausted by the end of the day (yourself included), so don’t feel bad about keeping your bedtime routines short.

We simplified ours by giving Vivi a good swipe with a baby wipe, having her wash her hands and brush her teeth, putting her in her jammies, and then lights out. If you want to really do Disney at an expert parent level (or if you’re just dealing with a really little baby), bring their jammies to the park and dress them for bed right before the fireworks each night. That way, you can easily pop them into bed as soon as you get back to the room. Then in the morning, make sure everyone gets a real bath before you dress for the day.

13. Use the Disney app to plan rides and character meet-and-greets you don’t have FastPasses for.
FastPasses are truly wonderful (we only waited in about two lines the entire time), but since you only get three per park, you’re going to have to be strategic about the rest of your stay. The Disney My Experience app lets you not only track characters and navigate to rides, but it also gives you an estimated wait time for each thing. So if the line for Avatar Flight of Passage or to meet The Little Mermaid is under an hour, get over there now. (Just kidding, Avatar is NEVER UNDER AN HOUR.)(But it’s worth the wait in line, trust me.)

14. Wake up early to book FastPasses.
Speaking of FastPasses, they are no joke. You’re allowed to book three per park, but there are rules about the tier of the ride (aka, you can’t book all three roller coasters in Magic Kingdom because they’re top tier). And most of the rides you would actually need a FastPass for book up fast (no pun intended).

So make a plan. Because I was traveling with a group, we broke up the parks amongst three of us so we could book everything at once (you just have to link your reservations so you can add names outside your immediate family). Decide what is most important and book them as early in the day as you can. Once you use up your FastPasses, you’re allowed to book more later in the day. You can book your passes as early as a month before your trip.

Do NOT slack on this. These suckers are gone in a flash, so it’s worth setting an alarm so you’re up the moment they open up to you. Disney will send you about three letters and emails reminding you when the day is coming, but put it in your calendar too. As much as most normal adults hate waiting in lines, toddlers HATE waiting in lines, so the happiness of your trip depends on this.

15. And when all else fails, child swap!
Add this to the list of things Disney knows are annoying for parents on vacation. Because there are obviously rides that your little one won’t be big enough to go on, Disney will have one parent wait in line and then be given a Child Swap pass for the other parent to skip the line to ride. That way, someone is always available to watch your toddler, but you don’t have to wait in line twice.

It’s as genius as it sounds. Plus, each Child Swap pass is good for up to three people, which is how I got to go on Flight of Passage TWICE. #winning

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16. Prepare your child to meet characters.
It’s not at all out of the ordinary for little kids and babies to be scared of the characters. Vivi was basically terrified until we went to a Winnie the Pooh-themed lunch at Magic Kingdom (they all look like giant stuffed animals, so I think they were less scary somehow). After that, she was generally great but sometimes needed a way to break the ice.

It’s a good idea to prep your kid to meet their heroes so they don’t panic or freeze up. Autograph books are good because kids don’t really have to say anything, but it can also be helpful to have your child prepare a question (great for the princesses who can talk) or a high-five (for the mute characters). For Vivi, a nose boop was the perfect ice breaker. Once she booped Piglet’s snout or Mickey’s nose or Olaf’s carrot, she was good to give hugs and smile for photos.

And for my final three tips, a few safety suggestions:

17. Write your phone number inside your child’s Magic Band.
In all honesty, Disney is not the worst place in the world to lose your kid. Just kidding: EVERY PLACE IS HORRIBLE TO LOSE YOUR KID. What I mean is, Disney is what you’d call pretty serious about having a good image with families, so if a kid goes missing, they shut that park down until the kid is found.

They also tag..er…give everyone a Magic Band (which operates as your room key, holds reservations and Fast Passes, and links to a credit card to make purchases). What they don’t advertise as much is that your Magic Band is really a tracking device. They use it for a variety of innocuous reasons, like tracking traffic in the park and being able to show you the professional pictures you take throughout the day. But it could, in an emergency, be useful in finding your kid as well. (Disney, if you’re reading, I also think the children’s bands shouldn’t be able to be removed by anyone other than the parent. Put a code on that thang. Just saying.)

Aside from that, a simple thing you can do to help your kid be found if they wander off accidentally is to write your phone number inside their band. Vivi was actually pretty good about keeping hers on (Tip: Tell them it’s their MAGIC PRINCESS BAND! in an excited voice when you give it to them.), and slightly older will most likely have even less of an issue.

18. Take a picture of your kid every morning.
Listen, you’re probably going to do this anyway (see the aforementioned planned Disney outfits!), but it also has a really practical motivation: If your kid goes missing, you can’t be expected to remember every detail about what they were wearing in the middle of that emotional strain. Now you’ll have a super-current photo to share with park authorities at a moment’s notice on your phone.

19. Don’t be ashamed to use a harness if necessary.
No judgment, folks. Disney can be a wild place, and toddlers are wild people who don’t understand most boundaries. If you’re raising a roamer, consider a lightweight toddler harness to keep them close and safe. We actually bought this one. We didn’t end up using it since she was either held or in the stroller most of the time, but I liked knowing we had it if things got hairy.

 

Dance like a two-year-old who doesn’t care if anyone is watching.

A couple of nights ago, my parents were in town and we took them to one of our favorite local restaurants. It’s an Irish pub, and every Sunday a few musicians set up camp for an hour or two and play traditional Irish music.

They were just setting up when we arrived, so we were happy we’d get to hear their whole set.

Vivi has always loved music, but the moment they started to play a little jig, she instantly started to dance. For the next 20 minutes, she stomped and kicked and jumped with complete abandon.

I was transfixed by her incredible confidence. The room was filled with strangers (who were very much watching her little display), but my daughter danced on, unafraid of what anyone thought of her. It embodied this remarkable age, where self-esteem is arguably at an all-time high.

It nearly took my breath away.

Beneath my joy, though, there was a small catch in my throat. Because I wondered, “When will she start to care? When will she start to worry what other people think? When will she lose this magical confidence?”

I’ve written before about how motherhood makes me want to be braver, if only because it will hopefully lead to braver children. Vivi’s impromptu dance recital was a sharp reminder to me of that promise I made to her and to myself.

Because I nurse a bubble of hope. That while she will probably start to care what other people think, she will always be confident enough to be herself regardless of her critics. That the conviction she now reserves for refusing to clean up her toys will one day help her stick to her guns over much more important issues of character.

At the risk of sounding too much like a country song, I hope my sweet girl will always dance when the music moves her. I promise I’ll do my best to be there to cheer on every step.

The motherhood metamorphosis

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about the subject of identity and motherhood.

Partly because it’s my job. But partly because I feel like it’s one of those things I’ve slowly been working out for the last two years.

When I first got pregnant, I was so absorbed by the process. I’m one of those freaks who LOVED being pregnant 99.9 percent of the time, and I was fascinated by every single bit of it. (Classic nerd.)

After Vivi was born, I had no other choice but to be consumed by mama life. And here’s a fun fact about me: When I see no way out, I find a way to love it. Really, I’m too Type A to see all these lemons sitting out and not try to make them useful. Ergo, the lemonade of early motherhood.

Longtime readers will also remember that I made a very active effort to truly appreciate every bit. Loads of people want to be parents and can’t for whatever reason; who am I to take this actual miracle for granted?

And I can’t honestly say that I HAVE enjoyed every stage of Vivi, despite those “the days are long” moments that surely I did not enjoy at the time. I recently told a pregnant pal that my strategy for pregnancy and babies (and toddlers) has been to go in with the lowest expectations. After that, anything seems pretty okay!

But another fun fact about me: I commit…and not always in a good way.

I go all in. I’ve done it with jobs, I’ve done it with relationships. There have been so many times in life I’ve gotten six months into something and then paused to think, “Wait…what happened? Who am I? How did I get here?”

It’s a weird quirk, and it has led to some difficult self-reflection moments.

So going into motherhood, I made a conscientious effort to NOT do that. I made balance one of my top priorities.

That’s why I kept the jobs (Okay, that was also to pay the thousands we owed the hospital/buy groceries). That’s why I went back to working out as quickly as possible. It’s why I clung to the little things that made me feel like post-pregnancy Justine.

But, here’s the funny thing about motherhood: It’s not like a new job. It’s not even like a new relationship. It’s not about giving things up or even really adding things in.

Motherhood is a metamorphosis. You enter one thing, but you emerge something entirely different.

I hear so many people say they don’t want to lose themselves in motherhood, and truly that was one of my concerns too. But, really, that’s not what happens. You are not getting lost—you’re becoming an entirely different creature. It’s an evolution that would never have happened if you took a different path.

Because you actually get to keep the parts of yourself you like. And everything else gets refined.

Mamas are efficient, so we are skimmed down to our most necessary parts. We are adaptable, so we grow the new abilities we need to do and thrive. We are resourceful, so we develop the skills necessary and walk away stronger than we could have ever been.

Truth is, I can’t actually stop being who I am. But whereas that realization usually came in a jarring moment with other life transitions, with motherhood, it was a gentle waking up. A stretch where I suddenly realized new muscles had developed overnight. This new “Mama” on my resume makes me look and feel more powerful, not less.

The fact is, I never lost my identity. I let it grow.